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Scotland's vast west coast.
Bringing the industrial revolution to this galaxy of inlets and islands
was an epic engineering adventure.
Tough little boats were built
and massive waterways were dug,
shipping short cuts connecting coast to coast.
This extraordinary enterprise of genius and folly
began some 200 years ago,
in Scotland's great maritime cities.
Bold pioneers steamed out from Glasgow in boats
both great and small. Now we're following in their wake.
And the customary crew have signed on for the voyage.
Miranda explores an undersea worm city.
Wonderful how they grow, they're just like gnarly tree roots.
Mark is in search of Scotland's lost tribe.
Look down there, so that's definitely Pictish.
Nick discovers how Britain's boldest waterway
was built through the heart of the Highlands.
Alice seeks artistic inspiration in splendid isolation.
And I'm messing about in boats, big ones...
..and wee ones.
This is coast to coast.
We've crossed from western Ireland over to Glasgow.
Our new adventure takes a remarkable watery short-cut right through
the heart of the Highlands, from west coast to east coast.
It's a journey that will leave us in Edinburgh,
a mere 40 miles from where we begin.
Glasgow was put on the map in the 18th century by Scotland's first millionaires,
merchants whose wealth was founded on trade across the sea.
Their artery to the wider world,
the River Clyde, became famous for shipbuilding.
Most of the old docks are overgrown now, but at the industry's height in the early-1900s
this was home to 31 shipyards squeezed into a 15-mile stretch of river -
60,000 workers churning out world-class ships.
And I've come to the birthplace of the greatest of the Clyde-built liners.
It's hard to believe walking along past all these sapling trees
and the modern buildings in the background,
but this was once the mighty John Brown's Shipyard, the birthplace of The Queen Mary.
The Queen Mary began life in December 1930 as hull number 534.
Slowly, the ship planned as the world's foremost passenger experience took shape.
Launches on the Clyde were always celebrated, but none more so than The Queen Mary.
As she slid into the water on the 26th September 1934, a mighty cheer echoed around the river.
My mum and dad were both one year old in 1934 when The Queen Mary was launched,
and they were both brought down by their respective families to witness the launch.
Two years later The Queen Mary clinched the Blue Riband
for fastest passage to America,
taking just 4 days and 27 minutes to reach New York.
These supermodels might have provided the glamour for the world stage, but the Clyde was also home
to some different characters that the locals fell in love with - the Clyde puffers,
tough little working boats that connected Glasgow to the Western Isles.
The steam-powered puffers took coal,
timber and grain out to Britain's furthest-flung communities.
For the myriad of isles scattered the length of Scotland's west coast
the puffers were a lifeline.
And their crews became local heroes,
immortalised by writer Neil Munro
in his creation of skipper Para Handy.
Aye, Dougie, she's making good speed there, we must be doing ten knots at least.
Aye, and so she should, seeing the steam's 90% water and 10% whisky.
The puffers are all gone now...
well, almost all.
This is the Vic 32,
the last surviving coal-fired steam-powered Clyde puffer.
You know, there are some things I get to do, some places I get to go,
and there's only one word to describe them, and the word is...magical.
Look at that, that's all the atmosphere you need.
I wish you could smell it, there's this hot mineral oil smell,
and you can just hear the beating heart, it's like a living thing,
it's not a machine, it's alive.
Few of the men who sailed these boats westward remain.
Stewart Pearson is one of them. He was a deck hand on the puffers.
What was the life like for you? How were the crew with you?
We were a cheery lot. The skipper had a great sense of humour,
the mate was a bit of a character.
But for all these guys were sort of rough diamonds, in bed at night in our bunks, Willie Stewart,
the mate, would read Robert Burns, he had a Burns book and he used to read this every night.
-That's quite cultured.
-It was very cultured, I thought, it's really amazing, he loved Burns.
You kind of get the impression
that the skippers were a law unto themselves, and risk-takers.
Yes, they were, they did their own thing. When they were sailing on these, between these islands,
they did it by sort of pilotage, they didn't have charts, as such.
They had their sturdy boats, but the puffer crews relied on a short cut
to the isles, a seaway carved through the land - the Crinan Canal.
For traders heading out from Glasgow, the construction of the Crinan Canal
meant they could cut through a fearsome obstacle
to the western seaboard.
Before the canal's coast-to-coast route,
boats had to navigate round the Mull of Kintyre,
a 240-mile trek through some treacherous waters.
So coming through here by contrast
is just a walk in the park, I suppose?
This is great, that's what the famous song says,
"The Crinan Canal for me, don't want the wild rolling sea."
# The Crinan Canal for me
# I don't like the wild raging sea
# The big falling breakers Would give me the shakers
# The Crinan Canal for me It's the Crinan Canal... #
The Crinan Canal starts life
running parallel to the coast before cutting inland.
It sliced journey times to the west coast from one-and-a-half days
to just a few hours.
It might have started as an industrial trade way,
but it's now become known as Britain's most beautiful shortcut.
# There's no shark or whale That would make you turn pale
# Or shiver and shake At the knee... #
Even so, it's not exactly plain sailing.
Furthest away one, please, yeah.
There are 15 locks to get through.
It's all hands on deck,
and off deck,
and back on deck, again and again.
But it's a magical journey.
All too soon you reach the last lock on the Crinan Canal.
Once you're through that,
there's nothing between you and the open sea of Scotland's west coast.
A constellation of islands beckons,
only a small fraction of them inhabited.
This is Britain's wildest frontier.
Many of the scattered communities out here once depended on the irrepressible Clyde puffers
to bring them the necessities,
and to export their goods to far-away markets.
On one group of tiny islands off the Argyll coast,
the locals' export activities left some big holes in their lives.
Hermione is on a voyage to see what vanished.
She's heading off to the little isle of Easdale.
Easdale's one of the slate islands, so-called because of roof slate...
lots and lots of it.
Welcome to the islands that roofed the world.
I'm meeting local author, Mary Withall,
who's researched her home's curious claim to fame.
-Here we are in Easdale.
There seems to be an awful lot of slate still here, not all of it's gone.
It is the result of the slate-quarrying activity.
When they pulled the slate out of the ground only about 60% of what
they actually produced was usable slate, the rest of it was waste.
It gives you a sense of how much actually must have been quarried.
Yes, indeed, nine million slates a year
at the peak of production, which was about 1860.
Nine million slates a year - that's an awful lot of roofs!
The Vikings may have used the slate for gravestones
but it wasn't until the 18th century that the slate became big business.
Men began chipping away at the ground beneath their feet,
and steadily the holes got deeper.
The quarrying was so intensive,
the landscape looks moth-eaten on a massive scale.
Big chunks of Easdale have been removed slate by slate.
On nearby Belnahua, the quarries in the middle took away
so much material, the island is now almost as much water as land.
And this damage was done by hand.
Quarrymen worked with picks, shovels and muscle,
shifting slate loosened by gunpowder.
The waste from their labours lies in piles all over the island.
If you look at the slate close up you can see that it's made up
of lots of thin layers, it's got a beautiful bluey-black colour.
Now, it's formed from mud that was originally laid down
on an ancient ocean floor more than 500 million years ago,
and that mud was then heated and compressed
and formed a rock, this slate,
that splits very easily into fine sheets, making it absolutely perfect
for making hardy roof tiles.
Easdale is tiny, yet the village is surrounded by no fewer than seven quarries,
and as you tour the island, suddenly they come into view.
just look at that!
Beautiful, clear pool.
You can see over there all the slate banked up and disappearing down into
the water, there's something almost a bit magical about it.
All that history preserved under water.
It's just beautiful.
There's still plenty of slate here, so where did all the quarriers go?
Iain McDougall from the local museum has done some digging of his own.
What happened at the end,
what led to the demise of this whole industry?
The initiating factor would be the gale in November 1881,
the once-in-a-century gale.
Southwesterly, coming from that direction, howling gale,
hurricane-force winds, massive seas,
crashing in, filled the quarries with water.
The sea was reputed to be actually coming over the island,
running through the houses and out into the harbour on the other side.
Now, if you bear in mind in those days the quarry companies did not
supply tools or anything like that,
the men supplied their own tools, where were their tools?
Under a 120 feet of water.
So the island was destitute.
No tools no work, no work no pay, no pay no food.
Quarrying limped on until the early 1900's, but as a major industry
it was all over.
Fishing became more important,
and in the 1950s Easdale was wired up with electricity.
Tourism brought new work,
and descendants of the original slate quarriers began to return.
Now Easdale has about 60 residents.
There are people here but no cars,
so it's a great place to let kids run wild,
and they've even found a use for all the abandoned slate.
Easdale has re-invented itself
as the stone-skimming capital of the world.
The championships are held here every autumn.
And I've got a couple of experts to show me their skimming secrets.
You need to get a particular piece of slate, do we?
Oh, excellent! And how do you stand - is it all in the stance?
You put your foot there,
and back foot there,
and lean back and move forward with your arm
-and then let loose.
-What about holding the stone?
You hold it like that, your thumb on top so it's...
-Like that, is that OK?
-OK, Alan, you go.
Brilliant! OK, let me give it a go.
No, that was hopeless!
And I wasn't trying to do a rubbish one, honestly.
The slate quarriers of Easdale made the best of what they had to hand.
It's an time-old tale for west coast folk who toiled to build communities on such tricky terrain.
As we cross back over to the mainland, the mountains rear up.
Much of this coast is sparsely inhabited,
like here at Loch Creran.
There are no sizeable settlements
on the shores of this loch, at least not above the water.
Miranda's seeking the citizens beneath the waves.
Loch Creran is a conservation area
because of its incredible marine life,
but what makes it so special
are some very shy tube worms that are busy building their own city
out there under the water - and this I've got to see.
These waters conceal some curious little worms
that build tube-shaped shells around themselves.
Those tube worms have created
their own version of a tropical coral reef,
the largest of its kind in the northern hemisphere.
It's down there somewhere, and I've got to find it.
-Hi, how you doing?
My guides in Loch Creran are David Hughes, a marine biologist, and Emily Venables, an oceanographer.
David, it's a big old loch - where exactly are we going to find the worms?
Well, we'll find them just over there in the shallows,
all the way along the south shore.
This loch's global claim to fame is down to the shells that the worms build around themselves.
Each individual worm secretes a hard calcified tube around itself
that it uses to protect itself.
Normally, we find these worms just growing as single individuals
on stones or bits of shell,
but in a very small number of places
you get large numbers of worms settling together, growing on top of each other.
Those hard tubes are the building blocks of an underwater city, and I want to see it.
Emily Venables is my tour guide.
'And here we are.'
What's incredible about these tubular reefs
is that there's just silt everywhere on the bottom of the loch here,
and suddenly you come across this little oasis.
'Inside these tubes is a creature much like an earthworm,
'but the only part you can see is its delicate fan of tentacles,
'used to filter food from the water,
'and the slightest disturbance causes them to pull back lightning-fast
'into their hard tubes for protection.'
I love it when you just swim over them and they all...
It's like fireworks in reverse - they all just dart in very, very quickly.
'Their hiding places are built on top of each other creating the worm city.'
It's wonderful how they grow, they're just like gnarly tree roots.
And incredibly tall as well, some of these look like two or three foot high.
'These shy little worms fashion their tubes out of the same hard material
'as other seashells - calcium carbonate.
'But because they form vertical branch structures, they build up a reef
'where other creatures come to hide or hunt.'
There's so many things living here.
We've got hermit crabs, we've got anemones, we've got sea urchins,
just a whole cast of characters living in this little city.
It's absolutely brilliant, teeming with life.
That's what we wanted to see, the scallop just swimming away,
it's like a pair of comedy sort of wind-up false teeth set.
These are queen scallops, they're fascinating.
They suck in some water and then they squirt it out really quickly like a jet.
There's a huge amount of marine life living in this one little spot.
And if it wasn't for the tube worms there wouldn't be all these creatures here.
'Mooring boats and fishing are restricted in Loch Creran to protect the reefs.
'We should treasure our underwater worm city.'
Worms aren't the only big builders in these parts - the people have grand designs too.
Navigating these waters by boat can be fraught with dangers.
To sail from the west coast to the east coast
means braving the storm-battered northern coastline of Scotland,
a treacherous stretch of water barring the passage to the North Sea.
So what if there were a short cut for ships
right through the centre of Scotland?
Well, here is that short cut -
the Caledonian Canal.
Started in 1803, it was one of Britain's biggest, boldest building projects.
A mighty waterway running for 62 miles from the Atlantic
to the North Sea through the mountainous heart of the Highlands.
And we're embarking on a journey along it.
It starts with a tight squeeze,
which looks a little too small for today's ocean-going cruise ships, like this one I'm on.
I tell you, this is going to have to be a neat trick.
This is a big ship
and it's got to travel all the way across country
in a space no wider than that.
The Caledonian Canal wasn't built for narrow boats but for much larger sea-going vessels.
Still, ships have grown quite a bit in the last 200 years.
No sooner have we got through obstacle number one,
than we're confronted with eight lock gates in a row.
This is known as Neptune's Staircase.
Like everything to do with this waterway, it's on a colossal scale.
Neptune's Staircase took 900 men nearly four years to construct.
Step by step, the 728-tonne Lord of the Glens
is raised 64 feet into the air
to begin its voyage through the middle of Scotland out to the east coast.
How was this waterway built, and why was it built?
Nick is on the trail of an epic tale.
Travelling along this canal you start to get a sense of the scale -
it was an extraordinary undertaking.
The plans were drawn up just over 200 years ago by Thomas Telford.
Telford's design for this waterway cleverly combined bold engineering
with Scotland's spectacular landscape.
Just look at this incredible view -
probably the most stupendous valley in the British Isles...
the Great Glen.
Right, here's a map of northern Scotland.
Glasgow is down here, and here is the Great Glen slashing across Scotland
from one side to the other, from the Atlantic here to the North Sea here.
In the bed of the Great Glen are three freshwater lochs, Loch Lochy,
Loch Oich and the largest of them, Loch Ness.
What Telford wanted to do - and here is his master plan - is link them all up by canals.
Here's Loch Lochy, here's Loch Oich and here's Loch Ness,
so he had to create canals
here, here, here
and here - four of them.
If he could do that he could create a waterway, which linked the North Sea with the Atlantic.
This short cut was planned to slash journey times and protect shipping
from storms at sea, but there was another even greater prize at stake.
Some 200 years ago the Highlands were in crisis.
For years landowners had been throwing tenants off their land to
make way for sheep farming, a period known as the Highland Clearances.
People were leaving in their droves,
their abandoned homes swallowed by the heather.
There was a village here once, now it's gone back to nature.
So many people were emigrating that the Government became anxious that the Highlands would soon be empty -
people needed jobs as an incentive to stay.
Bright idea - how about getting them digging?
The Government put dispossessed Highlanders to work digging the Caledonian Canal.
In the days before heavy machinery, carving this monster waterway
would keep thousands busy with backbreaking work.
The state poured vast sums of money into the enterprise.
Here was a job creation scheme on a massive scale.
I'm meeting historian Anthony Burton, who knows what was expected of the novice navvies.
This is a beautiful spot. I've seen some of the canal now, this is like
the Panama Canal, this is something that changed British geography.
Absolutely, this was THE civil engineering triumph
of the age and it's all down to this, the spade.
This was done by blokes, and it was blokes from the Highlands.
The Highland Clearances, the Highlands were desperately poor -
in one day, 200 Highlanders appeared en masse having walked all the way
-from Skye to come and work on this canal.
-They were desperate for work.
They were desperate for work but they had to reach the standard of the professional navvy
and the professional navvy, they reckoned, could shift 12 cubic yards a day.
Three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine,
10, 11, 12.
Right, OK, so come on back. Now if you're an experienced navvy,
you're going to be digging a trench roughly waist-deep from here to there.
-Every single day, do you want to have a go to see how much hard work's involved?
-All right, all right.
-Be my guest, carry on.
I suppose this is probably what they did, just take the turf off first.
Yes, that's right.
So this soft Londoner
-is getting a bit knackered already.
-I'm not surprised.
You're getting into the rough stuff now, getting some stones down there.
-One more clod and...
-It's going to get harder and harder as you go down.
I'm just trying to imagine, given that I'm soaked in sweat and my back's aching,
what it meant to the people who were obliged to dig it by hand.
What would you say, if you met one of them now, if you could flip back through time?
Is this better than starving? Because that was the other option.
Or would you rather get on a ship and go to Canada?
I'd keep digging, I think.
-I think I would too.
-Even though it's absolutely back-breaking.
-But I've done enough...
-I'm sure you have!
..to know how incredibly tough they must have been to pull it off.
They dug and they dug for 19 years along a total of 22 miles,
they dug this channel, 15-feet deep.
Little by little the canal breathed life back into the Highland economy,
but the navvies couldn't have achieved this gigantic task without some help from nature -
a series of freshwater lochs along the length of the Great Glen.
Connecting these natural waterways was the key to completing the Caledonian Canal.
On their route was the mightiest loch of them all, Scotland's most famous...
Deep enough to hold the fresh water from every lake in England and Wales put together.
So enormous it's said that every human on planet Earth could fit beneath its surface...
three times over!
Adrian Shine originally came to these waters to hunt the Loch Ness monster.
What he did find was a fascinating insight into the boats
that once used this waterway as part of the Caledonian Canal coast-to-coast short cut.
-This is rather exciting.
-It is, isn't it?
Does it matter which way into the water it goes?
No, no, just...just pop it in.
This is the remote camera technology Adrian used to explore the deep.
-Now lower away, lower away.
-Watching the screen,
that's it, watching the screen.
Skimming across the floor of the loch with his underwater camera in 2002,
Adrian stumbled across something that, for me, is an intriguing clue
to the fate of the Caledonian Canal.
You know, suddenly this wall of wood came up in front of us,
there was the name - Pansy, and the Banff registration number.
Fascinating, because often with wrecks
you have trouble identifying them.
Well, we didn't have any trouble with this.
The registration tells us that Pansy wasn't a grand trading ship,
she was a sail-powered fishing boat much like this one.
The Pansy foundered in Loch Ness whilst using the Caledonian Canal
to reach new fishing grounds.
Fishing boats found the canal useful but finding the wreck of a large
merchant ship in Loch Ness is about as likely as spotting the monster.
Within a few years of the Caledonian Canal's completion in 1822
many merchant vessels had grown too big to use this coast-to-coast short cut.
It never became the mighty trade route that was planned.
If that wasn't bad enough the project had gone three times over budget.
Many thought it was a white elephant, a colossal waste of public money,
but approaching the end of the canal here at Inverness,
I can't help feeling that its success shouldn't be measured in pounds and pence.
Yes! This is the very last lock on the Caledonian Canal,
so that's salt water, that's the Moray Firth, and out there is the North Sea.
You know, this isn't just a great waterway, it's a great survivor.
Over the years many people have come up with many reasons to close it down,
but here's one to keep it open - it's an awesome achievement.
We're just over half way on our epic 400-mile journey around and through Scotland.
The Caledonian Canal has taken us from west coast to east. This is the North Sea.
And there's another huge construction project in these parts,
one that was designed to terrify the Highlanders into submission.
After the Jacobite Uprising and the bloody defeat of the rebels at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746,
the British government was determined to suppress future conflict at any cost.
Part of the solution they arrived at is hidden in here.
The entrance wasn't built for a warm welcome.
It's the gateway to a fearsome weapon
built by the British government to suppress Highland rebellion.
Welcome to Fort George.
It's as awe-inspiring now as it was daunting to Highlanders when it was built.
Any who harboured thoughts of rebellion had only to gaze upon these ramparts to think again.
It held a force of 1,600 soldiers.
Inside here, somehow, it still feels a little bit like 1769, the year the place was completed.
Even then, though, it was ready and prepared for a war that was already over.
Just like the Caledonian Canal, Fort George was a white elephant.
It went twice over budget and took so long to build that by the time it was finished
the threat of a Highland uprising had evaporated.
But the fort isn't the only legacy here of rebellious times.
The world-famous Black Watch Regiment
was established in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1715
from Highlanders loyal to the British crown.
Now they use Fort George as their base for operations all around the world.
The Black Watch had originally been set up to watch the Highlands.
Now the conflict in Afghanistan means their eyes are on lands far from these shores.
Across the water, Invergordon's where oil rigs come for maintenance,
but the boom times of the North Sea are over.
New business depends on finding more oil.
Out in the deep ocean the drillship Stena Carron is searching out fresh reserves two miles under the waves.
The enormous depth and pressure mean the oil men use remotely-operated vehicles.
When these ROV's are on downtime it's a rare chance for marine biologist Daniel Jones
to turn the remote control cameras on some extraordinary creatures,
which thrive 4,000 feet underwater.
This is what it's all about.
A huge amount of life down here, despite the crushing pressures
and the low temperatures.
That's great, it's such a beautiful animal, it's amazing to see it swimming like that.
Quite unusual behaviour for an octopus
but these deep-sea species often have interesting and unusual behaviours.
So this is the giant sea spider called Colossendeis.
Quite unusual to get animals this big on the sea floor.
These sea spiders can grow up to about this size.
We've found this anemone that we're really interested to capture,
we want to have a look at it under a microscope in a laboratory.
So we're going to use the ROV to deploy one of these sampling tubes
and capture over the top of the animal.
It's an extremely delicate task trying to catch this anemone,
which is about this size,
in a little core tube with an ROV that weighs two tonnes. That's it.
Oil might be today's bounty of the North Sea,
but in the early-1800s these shores were teeming with herring.
A building boom began to cash in on the silver darlings of the sea.
A new fishing community was planned on the Moray Firth at Burghead.
Mark's there to discover what was built...and what was lost.
This has all the hallmarks of a 200-year-old new town.
Look at this, rows of little cottages all built at the same time.
These streets are the work
of town planners from the Georgian era.
And at the business-end of town, a rather splendid harbour.
Starting in 1805, the town and harbour were built to land herring,
part of improving life for the Highlanders.
But it's not all quite as it appears.
From another point of view this unique little new town
was an unfortunate piece of Georgian vandalism.
From up here you can see the grid plan of the town.
At the end of the houses there's a grassy area with massive earthworks,
remains of something much older built by the Picts.
The Picts were a mysterious tribe living in this part of Scotland some 2,000 years ago.
This is one of their most important sites, but it's largely been flattened by the fishing port.
To get an idea of the scale of the Pictish fort that was here, I've joined archaeologist Fraser Hunter.
So where exactly are we in this fort?
Well, this is a mid-18th century map of the site, here's the..
there's two halves to the site, an upper and lower half,
and we're standing there.
On this ridge up the middle.
This is one of the huge stone-built ramparts
that divided the upper part of the site.
These massive banks of earth are all that remain of the Picts' 1,500-year-old fort.
And then looking across, where are all these?
Well, underneath those houses, sadly.
-So it's all gone.
-A whole half is now covered over by the village.
No wonder the Picts remain such a mystery.
They ruled large parts of Scotland for centuries,
but this seat of Pictish power was destroyed to build a fishing port.
The new town wiped out precious clues to the culture of the Picts,
but there are some tantalising glimpses of what was lost.
See up here, the two pentangles?
Oh, yes, look there and there!
Those are things you get, again, on a number of pieces of Pictish sculpture.
If we go on in, gosh, it's enormous!
-It's fantastic, isn't it?
Deeper into the cave, a more grisly discovery in the 1920s - piles of human bones.
The evidence we have indicates a whole range of odd things going on,
back into deep pre-history, back into the late Bronze Age and Iron Age, so 3,000, 2,000 years ago
this cave is being used for special purposes.
Do you want to come back outside and I'll show you some stuff?
Back in daylight, Fraser reveals the bones that were buried for so long.
We have some of the bones from the excavations,
this is human neck vertebrae.
Look! It's been chopped.
-And you think that one's been chopped..
Whoever owned that met a very nasty fate.
It's a beheading, somebody's been decapitated,
and most of the vertebrae surviving from the site show that, and also a range of people.
Those two are both adult, but this one is a juvenile.
Juvenile... It's a grisly place.
Yeah, a powerful place, a significant place.
Perhaps this cave is where the Burghead Picts
butchered their enemies, and even their enemies' children.
The culture of the Picts remains an enigma.
Their fort at Burghead was flattened,
but the few precious artefacts that survive have a real power.
Oh, isn't that amazing?!
-One of the Burghead bulls.
Most of them are found long after they've been knocked out of their original settings,
and many of them, as you can see here, have also been damaged and re-used as building stones.
It's thought that up to 30 of these bull stones were set into the walls of the fort,
but only six have survived.
It's almost a totem or a symbol of this site and its inhabitants.
The bull stones are a precious connection with the once powerful Picts,
but who knows how many more of their treasures are buried among the houses of Burghead?
We're working out way down Scotland's eastern shoreline.
It's a wonderful contrast to the mountainous west coast.
Endless beaches stretch down the shore,
waiting to be explored.
A long, straight run of sand is interrupted by the oil city of Aberdeen.
But we're headed a few miles beyond,
to the little fishing port of Stonehaven.
On the eve of every New Year, the villagers spend the day preparing for the big night ahead.
Susan Leiper's one of them.
Well, tonight in Stonehaven it's Hogmanay,
it's the night where we swing our fire balls in the high street.
This will be my tenth year of being a fire-ball swinger, and I absolutely love it.
So this is what a fireball looks like when it's been made up
and before it gets lit.
In this there's old pairs of jeans, cardboard.
There's bits of newspaper and briquettes.
This one's about ten pounds in weight, which is heavy enough.
So at 12 o'clock, the piper starts to march down the road, and the first fire-ball swinger is off.
That's the point of no return, really.
This is where it all starts to kick in.
I'm really, really nervous, every year I'm like this at this point.
-Five, four, three, two, one...
I'm shattered! I've got no energy left!
And you can feel the atmosphere's absolutely electric, and I just love it, I absolutely love it.
Stonehaven may sparkle with fire briefly at the start of each year,
but this coast is capable of spectacular displays at any time.
The grey North Sea is famous for its black moods,
when ferocious storms batter this shore.
And sometimes they feel the fury in the tiny village of Catterline.
A little line of houses perches high on the hillside out of the sea's reach,
but Catterline's most celebrated resident didn't shelter from the storms.
She embraced the raging water.
Alice is following in the footsteps of a famous artist.
I've got a photo here of a lone painter
working intensely on the shore.
You can see her facing the sea, which is boiling around the rocks,
and she's wearing her oilskins with paint pots around her feet
and some brushes over here.
And this is a very big canvas, which she must be having to stabilise
against the wind, and there's her motorbike propped up.
Now, the artist is Joan Eardley,
and the photograph was taken of her just here at Catterline.
Joan Eardley was one of Britain's most important modern artists,
and she had a long love affair with the shore at Catterline.
This little cottage was her studio in the 1950s and '60s.
Locals call it the Watchie.
The Watchie was Joan's vantage point on the sea
that so captured her heart.
To explore the attraction, I'm off to meet a young artist
who's also fallen under Catterline's subtle spell.
Anna King continues the tradition Joan Eardley started - women artists coming here to paint.
-How's it going?
-Are you feeling inspired?
-That's lovely, actually.
I've got this lovely photo here of Joan facing out to sea and painting this really stormy sea.
I think she painted everything around Catterline.
I think she kind of got to know every inch of the village
and the sea and everything.
In fact, if you want to have a look at some paintings,
you can see that's the south row of cottages there.
That's lovely, that's the row up on the top of the hill, isn't it?
A bit of a different day from today, with snow on the ground!
It seems like quite a wild place, it seems that Jane really liked that.
-These paintings, that one of the sea there...
-It's the wildness of it.
The sea there is actually coming over this jetty, isn't it?
So really crashing through.
So was it Joan herself that first drew you to Catterline?
I like her paintings and I'd heard of her,
but it was more the opportunity of getting to stay in the Watchie,
the wee cottage up there.
There's nothing to do except paint and make art, so it's pretty good for getting work done.
The Watchie works for many artists.
The potential of this special place was first spotted by Joan Eardley in the 1950s.
There's something about this space
that inspires canvas after canvas,
and it's not hard to see why.
This is a view that Joan Eardley would have been very familiar with,
and I've got a recording of her voice here that I'm going to listen to.
'When I'm painting in...in the north east,
'I hardly ever move out of the village.
'I hardly ever move from one spot.
'I do feel that the more you know something, the more you can get out of it, that is the north east.
'There's just vast waste and vast seas, vast areas of cliff.
'Well, you've just got to paint it.'
Joan Eardley painted the violent seascapes of Catterline time and again,
a love affair that became an obsession.
She asked her friends in this little coastal village
to watch for approaching storms, so they could call her in Glasgow,
and she could jump on her motorbike, dashing to the coast, ready to paint straightaway.
But she was racing against time.
In 1963, Joan put on an exhibition of her work in London,
and it was critically acclaimed, but tragically, just as her fame was blossoming, she herself was dying.
She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that year,
and by August she was dead.
She was only 42 years old.
Joan Eardley was cremated and her ashes were scattered here at Catterline,
but she left us a precious gift.
Not only do her pictures survive,
the Watchie, the studio Joan loved,
is here for artists to discover for themselves
what it was about Catterline that so captivated Joan.
For me, it's the extraordinary emptiness that's so striking.
Maybe that's the inspiration Joan Eardley found here -
the space to be alone with the elements.
The stark loneliness of this shoreline is soon swallowed by the mighty River Tay.
On our journey down the east coast, we've reached Dundee.
This city's links with its proud industrial past
are measured out in bridges...
Discovery, the ship that took Scott to the Antarctic in 1901.
But I've come to rekindle an old passion of my own.
How about this?
Not a lighthouse, but a lightship.
Now that's a bright idea.
The North Carr lightship looks like a boat with a big light plonked onto the top,
but below deck there's something missing.
This is a ship with no propeller and no engine to drive on, either.
The ship spent months anchored off the coast of Fife, manned by a crew of 11.
Imagine 11 sea dogs moored at sea in this thing, an oversized tin can.
They kept the light burning, and no doubt saved countless lives.
But on December 8th 1959, this lightship wasn't saving lives.
It was claiming them.
As the east coast was lashed by terrible blizzards,
the anchor chain that had held the North Carr fast for so long snapped.
The lightship herself was heading for disaster on the very rocks she was there to warn against.
The crew sent out a mayday.
The lifeboat Mona responded to the distress call.
She battled her way through enormous waves,
attempting to save the lightship and the 11 men trapped on board.
But that lifeboat, the Mona, never reached the lightship or the men sheltering inside her.
Come daybreak, the crew aboard here had survived,
but the bodies of seven of the lifeboat men were found washed up on a nearby beach.
The body of the eighth lifeboat man was never found.
The North Carr lightship eventually finished service in 1975 and was moored permanently here in Dundee.
She leaves me with mixed feelings.
No doubt the North Carr saved lives,
but she also cost lives.
As the coast turns a corner into the wide waters of the Firth of Forth,
we're approaching our destination, Edinburgh.
Famously the financial heart of Scotland, much of the city's wealth
has been built on sea trade and in former days shipbuilding,
where the capital embraces the water at the docks of Leith.
Engineering excellence spilled out of Edinburgh along its shore.
The mighty rail bridge has become a global symbol for the city.
But there's a less well-known engineering innovation from these parts
that's had a huge impact worldwide.
Just over 200 years ago, the world's first practical steamboat was being invented not far from here.
In 1803, this coal-fired boat, the Charlotte Dundas,
became the first steamer powerful enough to pull more than her own weight.
This was the boat that launched the Steam Age.
Now goods and people could be transported faster and further than ever before,
and there are some who still keep their steam heritage alive.
Permission to come aboard?
Tom Peebles built the Talisker himself.
Those early pioneers of the Steam Age would be at home onboard.
What is it for you, or for anyone, about steam? What's the draw?
It's kind of hard to describe it, but you know when something
gets you going,
and steam, the smell of the engine, the coal, the whole thing.
You can feel, smell and hear everything that goes on.
They won't go without a lot of attention
and a kiss and a cuddle at night before you go away.
-That's entirely between you and your boat!
We've almost come full circle, after a 400-mile journey around and through Scotland,
to end up off the coast of Edinburgh,
only 40 miles from Glasgow, where we started.
Connecting great cities with wild frontiers,
uniting west and east coasts,
it's the engineering feats of the people who lived on these shores that made that journey possible.
From the vast Queen Mary...
..to the irrepressible puffers,
via the audacious Caledonian Canal
to this wee speedster.
My journey began with steam, and it ends with steam.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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